Category Archives: Reviews

Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina


Riot Days is written in a style that you almost expect to hear screamed into a microphone at a gig or whispered at an intimate performance poetry event. It tells of the events leading up to the infamous Pussy Riot protest performance in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral and the group’s subsequent arrest, imprisonment and transport to a penal colony from the point of view of Maria Alyokhina, activist, musician, founding member of the Pussy Riot Collective and a former political prisoner.

Riot Days makes for compelling reading, it is a report from a modern day neo-dicatorship and a warning to everyone who takes their freedoms and democratic rights for granted that freedom can be a transitory thing and we need to fight for it in thousands of little ways or we will wake up and find that it is lost.

At its core, Riot Days is about the a little freedom that can never be taken away – the freedom of Choice to stand against the wrongs you see and experience, instead of just putting your head down and accepting them.

It is a blueprint for protest, a step by step guide to standing up to fascism and surviving against the bullying tactics of a police state.

riot days

Riot Days is published by Allen Lane Books and will be available from the 14th September

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

Barry Hines was a phenomenal writer and A Kestrel for a Knave is rightly regarded as one of his finest works. In the 50 years since it was published, his words have lost none of their power or stark beauty, detailing a day (with flashbacks) in the life of Billy Casper, a poor, working class lad from a broken family in the North.
I cannot think of any other unflinching portrayals of working class youth that have become so deeply embedded into the public consciousness, thanks in part to Kes; the film adaptation directed by Ken Loach and co-written by Hines himself.

The edition from the Folio Society does justice to the story. It is not only beautiful to behold – from the translucent dust jacket to the endpapers illustrated with silhouettes of birds in flight and the illustrations throughout the story breaking up the text but it is a thing of beauty to hold, the slightly rough cover and the rich, soft pages that are a delight to turn and read.

David Howe’s illustrations are a wonderful addition to the story and I cannot think on any other artist that could have done justice to this story of a no-hoper and a hawk!

A Kestrel for a Knave takes the reader back to a time that although not so long ago is gone forever, of roaming the fields, catching and taming raptors, knowing what the future held – usually a rough life down in the pits and casual violence and brutality.

Published by the Folio Society, A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines is available now.

All Illustrations by David Howe from The Folio Society edition of A Kestrel for a Knave ©David Howe 2017

Brock, Pike & Rook by Anthony McGowan some thoughts and a review

It is grim up North – at least that is what they tell us! Peopled with cloth-hatted whippet fanciers that probably have ferrets down their trousers that mumble things like “Ee bah gum!” and suchlike! The problems with stereotypes is that they obscure the truth, and for people that do not venture out of their comfort zones then stereotypes is all they have to go on! This is just one reason why reading is so important – it gives us windows into parts of the world that we may not experience!

There appears to have been a dearth of novels about the North and working class lads since the late, great Barry Hines’ seminal work A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968.

Into this breach has stepped Anthony McGowan, I will not deny that I am a fan of his works, he is a great wordsmith and one that is too often pigeon-holed as a writer of lavatory humour, yes his works often contain laughs of the scatological variety but to pigeonhole on his works as solely of that style is to do him a grave disservice!

His Kenny & Nicky trilogy: Brock, Pike and Rook are three wonderful, brief books that take you into the lives of two poor, single-parent boys that live in Yorkshire. Their lives appear grim but the brotherly bond between Nicky and his older, special needs brother is crafted as a thing of beauty. The boys are the main characters and the supporting cast, particularly their father, portrayed, initially as an unemployed, recovering alcoholic facing a potential jail sentence are wonderfully realised, and the three of them grow and develop through course the books.

In Brock, the brothers have to contend with a gang of bullies that involve Kenny in badger baiting, the story is, as are the others, narrated by Nicky who has to balance keeping his brother safe, with avoiding the police and keeping his father in the dark as to what is happening around him.

Pike continues the tale of the brothers, this time catching the glimpse of a flash of gold in the local pond, inhabited, or so the legend goes, by a monster pike that is large enough to pull down a human. This time the stakes are higher, involving the disappearance of a local hard man and his son stepping up and making the lives of Nicky and Kenny a misery.

Rook, the third tale is more personal in nature; Nicky falls in love with a girl in his class; the sister of the school bully. The feelings of confusion engendered within Nicky threaten his relationship with his beloved brother and risk fracturing his family. The stresses in all their lives are focused around an injured Rook rescued by Kenny.

Thinking further upon these novels, I realised that they are based on the elements: Earth for Brock, Water for Pike and Air for Rook, the symbolism of this only became clear a short time ago. We are introduced to Nicky and Kenny, their family is fractured and dirt-poor, living in squalor in Brock then moving on to Pike with the family fortunes gradually improve – with Water as a symbol for them being washed clean and finally with Rook Nicky is ready to fly in the Air filled with hope and love.

If there is a fourth book to come I hope that it will have something to do with the brothers travelling beyond the bounds of their village life to visit their mother (Fire transporting them) but that is pure supposition on my part as Anthony has not commented one way or another as to whether there will be another.

This trilogy is truly glorious! All three books are published by Barrington-Stoke and are available now!

This Is Not A Sex Book


What? The Uncensored Manual for All Things Intimate

Who? Chusita Fashion Fever is the pseudonym of Spanish YouTube sensation Maria Jesús Cama. She speaks vry openly and honestly to teens about a range of topics on her popular channel. With illustrations by Maria Llovet, comic author and illustrator.

Where? In all good bookshops, libraries and other places where books are found.

When? This Is Not A Sex Book is published on the 13th July.

The first thing you notice about This Is Not A Sex Book is that it is incredibly, almost retina-damaging fluorescent, this makes the title in white caps jump out at you, then you notice the two teens subtly looking at each other and you can almost feel their desire!

Books about sex and sexuality have come along in leaps and bounds sine I was a teen and this book is one of the best I have come across!

Aimed squarely at a teen/young adult readership This Is Not A Sex Book does not talk down to the reader but takes a no nonsense approach to educating them about sex and their growing sexuality. Chusita has taken the questions she has been asked via her YouTube channel and has created a book that is open, honest, sexy but never feels prurient or needlessly raunchy! It covers dating, sex, hooking up, breaking up discovering who you might be sexually and many of the other hurdles young people face when going through puberty.

I would like to make special mention on the art, by comic artist Maria Llovet she makes use of sequential art showing both vignettes and static scenes. the art is imbued with a sensuality that I have rarely encountered in a book of this nature.

From a Librarian perspective I think that although this book will be incredibly popular, it will not be officially borrowed that often. Instead I expect that it will disappear periodically and turn up in strange places and may even never be found again. I will make sure that there are multiple copies to make up for any disappearances because this book is important and should be made available to all teen readers.

Including it in a school library collection may be contentious and I am sure that some staff and parents may take umbrage at its inclusion but hey I may be wrong!

Highly recommended!

Further viewing: https://www.youtube.com/user/Chusitafashionfever

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman & Fred Fordham

Today, the 18th May 2017 marks the 156th anniversary of the ship that became known as the Mary Celeste, the ship that achieved notoriety when it was discovered adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Azores Islands, on December 5, 1872.


Another mystery ship is the Mary Alice – the ghostly ship whose crew travels the seven seas unbound by time first set sale in the first issue of the sadly scuppered weekly comic The DFC, then, as now it was penned by the inimitable Philip Pullman. The original artist was the phenomenal John Aggs; when it took to the high seas in the pages of The Phoenix it was redrawn by the equally talented (but new to me) Fred Fordham. The Pullman/Fordham collaboration is now available as a graphic novel, produced by David Fickling Books and the Phoenix Comic.

I grew up of tales of ghostly ships and spectral schooners, living as I did on the coast with a father who was an ex-navy man and The Mystery of The Ghost Ship reawakened that part of me that thrilled to nautical tales of hair-raising mystery and derring-do. With a no-nonsense heroine teamed up with a mysterious boy and a whole crew of time-displaced sailors all trying to get back to their timelines and survive an all-powerful foe determined to destroy them for reasons of his own.

This book is a thing of beauty, a hardback with a beautiful full-colour dust jacket that hides a gorgeous navy blue cover emblazoned with a mysterious, glowing Macguffin. Speaking as a somewhat obsessive book collector – the outward appearance of items that I choose to keep on my shelves is incredibly important – almost as important as the art and story contained on the pages within and believe me when I say the reread potential in this tome is incredibly high – the story works just as well huddled up in bed under the duvet at midnight with a torch (my favourite reading location) as it does on a bright summer day at the seaside!

Peppa Goes to London

The record skips, there is a screech as the needle runs across the surface… Peppa Pig appearing in Teen Librarian?

Surely Peppa is more suited to a younger readership? Yes – yes she is!

However… Peppa Goes to London is one of my daughter’s current favourite books of the moment.

I know that if I wish to attract her attention then all I have to do is pick it up and concentrate furiously on the story and ignore her; moments later as if by magic I will see her smiling, cherubic face peer round the side of the book before she pushes it aside to sit in my lap and wait for me to read the story, sometimes she will grab the book and tell me all about it – I may not be able to understand what she is saying, but she is emphatic in her love for this book.

Featuring recognisable London landmarks from Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge and ending up at Trafalgar Square with Her Majesty the Queen acting as a daredevil bus driving tour guide. Any story that ends with the Queen, Peppa and all her friends joyfully jumping in muddy puddles is great for all ages!

Look – Peppa Pig is phenomenally popular, appearing as she does on TV, in books, as plush toys and stickers and more! All the books that feature her are exceptionally popular as small children around the world love her and her family. I know too that much like Tellytubbies and other popular child-centric characters that appeared in pop culture before her that some adults are not massive fans but my daughter loves reading and watching her.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out my daughter below:

Daddy Pig is also the ‘face’ of The Book Trust’s Bath Book Bed programme to help weary parents get their children to sleep at night.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, John Jennings and Damian Duffy

I’m black, I’m solitary, I’ve always been an outsider!
~ Octavia E. Butler

Octavia Butler has been described as the greatest science fiction writer of her generation, not the greatest female science fiction writer or the greatest African-American science fiction writer, she is simply put, one of the greatest! Her words cut across class, race and gender and have found a home in the collections of millions of readers the world over!

She was awarded two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards and the PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the first science fiction writer to win a MacArthur “Genius” fellowship.

Kindred is one of her best-known novels; the tale of Dana, a modern young woman swept back in time to an earlier period in history, in this case the antebellum South, a time of cotillions, southern gallantry and all very romantic unless, like Dana, you happen to be black…

Kindred is a story of contrasts, of kindness, humanity and cruelty, of a modern world (in this case 1970’s California) where people are free to live their life and marry whomever they please and a time where people are treated as chattel, bought, sold an abused as they are considered less than human.

This graphic novel version of Kindred, adapted by Damian Duffy and John Jennings with the agreement of the estate of Octavia E. Butler is a beautiful hardcover, with an eye-catching dust jacket that looks as perfect on a shelf with novels as it does with other works of graphic art.

Damian Duffy has pared back Octavia’s text, preserving the essential story but making it flow perfectly for this graphic adaptation; John Jennings brings the text to life with his amazing artwork, imbuing the characters with movement on the page without glossing over the bloody and brutal mistreatment of humans by their fellow man. He has captured the cold cruelty of the slave owners in contrast with the pain and damaged humanity of the slaves. This is not a pretty story, no matter the beautiful artwork that adorns the pages; indeed it is shocking to modern liberal sensibilities and makes uncomfortable reading to be confronted by callous indifference to human suffering, but is necessary to remind ourselves how easy it is for us to dehumanise others and although we have come far, there is still a distance to go before we treat each other equally.

Kindred is rightly considered a classic of the science fiction & literary genres. Duffy & Jennings’ version is a perfect gateway for readers to encounter Octavia’s work.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler, illustrated by John Jennings and adapted by Damian Duffy. Published by Abrams ComicArts (£15.99)

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

I have had a copy of Hilo written and drawn by Judd Winick since December – it is a comic book that I loved and have been meaning to write a review of since I read it. However I have been dragging my feet with this and I have no idea why.

Last night I had a dream, and in that dream I wrote a Hilo review and compared it to The Iron Man by Ted Hughes – this is better known internationally as The Iron Giant thanks to the fantastic Warner Bros. animated movie. When I woke up I was confused as on the surface they two beings appeared to be completely different; on deeper reflection I realised that the stories had a number of similarities, my brain also threw about Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy and Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot into the mix as well as the parallels to Judd’s early work The Adventures of Barry Ween Boy Genius (the book that made me a Winick fan-boy)

Judd – if you do read this can you *please* let me know if Barry Ween will ever come back – thank you!

ANYWAY! Hilo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is funny, sweet and contains some surprisingly hidden depths to the surface story of a mysterious boy who falls to Earth and the children that become his best friends.

There is a lot of screaming and running away from alien monsters and pathos in the form of familial relationships and the feeling of not fitting in with both Hilo and D.J. filling the role of outsider Hilo on earth and D.J. within his family.

JW has always been championed diversity in his works and HiLo is no exception, a Caucasian from another dimension with a Hispanic and African American as best friends who get equal development within the story.

HiLo is a fast-paced, enjoyable romp for all ages and there are two other books in the series that are also available so there will be no long waiting for more once you have finished it!
If I could sum up HiLo The boy Who Crashed to Earth in one word then it is:
OUTSTANDING!

HiLo The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is published in the UK by Puffin

Rattle by Fiona Cummins

rattle

The Bone Collector
 
A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter.
 
He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he’s just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family’s macabre museum.
 
Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt.
 
Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs.

Rattle is not the sort of book I usually review on TeenLibrarian, seeing as it is not a Teen, YA or children’s book. It does have children though – two delightfully vulnerable children with rare disabilities that become the focus of a serial killer’s twisted needs.

This book was an uncomfortable read for me – since becoming a parent I have become more squeamish, especially when it comes to children in thriller/serial killer fiction. I am sure that this is what Fiona Cummins was aiming for when she wrote this wonderfully, squirm-inducing book!

However… it is a cliche to say that I found it hard to put down (because I did) the war between the eww I don’t want to read this side and the gosh I have to read this and find out what happens part was won (obviously) by the ghoulish side of me that revels in dark crime fiction – and believe me Rattle is as dark and glorious as they come!

No serial killer crime thriller would be complete without the police that role is filled with the fantastically realised Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy a member of the Metropolitan Police haunted by a missing child case case that almost ended her career and Erdman Frith a desperate father who will do anything to find his son.

The Territory: Escape by Sarah Govett

territory-escape

The year is 2059. Fifteen-year-old Noa Blake has passed the exam to stay in The Territory but her childhood friend Jack has been shipped off to the disease-ridden Wetlands, a death sentence in all but name. Noa and Raf have vowed to rescue him, but how? With an electric fence, gun towers and a police state monitoring their every move, getting into the Wetlands looks impossible, let alone getting home again. Second in The Territory trilogy, The Territory, Escape follows Noa, Raf and Jack as they battle through a world of raiders, mosquito swarms and psychopathic prisoners. Noa faces her own battle too is it just friendship that drives her and if not, is Jack still even hers to claim?

The Territory: Escape is the sequel to The Territory – my favourite dystopian novel of 2015.

As a follow-on novel, Escape does not disappoint continuing Noa and Raf’s quest to save their friend. One of the things that gripped me when I started this series was that Noa was not a gung-ho action heroine; actually none of her friends are they are just young people much like teens today doing their best to survive and overcome the odds (which are definitely not in their favour).

In this current age of political uncertainty and the ongoing talks on sacrificing of rights for safety, The Territory trilogy brings young readers face to face with serious questions about survival, choice and the type of world we want to live in.

It is also a damn good adventure and survival story!